Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

The Aum Shinrikyo Incidents and Religious Research
INOUE Nobutaka / Professor Emeritus, Kokugakuin University

September 11, 2018
The series of crimes by the Aum Shinrikyo cult in the 1990s forced students of contemporary religion in particular to engage in soul searching on a number of points, including perspectives and methods of research. There are certain challenges inherent in the study of contemporary religions. Researchers must pay special attention to their distance from the individuals and groups whom they are studying and to the publication of the information learned in the course of their research. In addition to legal issues involving things like privacy and copyrights, a variety of difficulties are now arising in connection with computerization.

Aum Shinrikyo, which went so far as to perpetrate indiscriminate acts of terrorism, further complicated the situation surrounding religious research. Religious phenomena are diverse by nature; so, too, are religious organizations. Being fully aware of this, scholars of new religions have, by and large, held to the view that newly arisen religions are not to be discriminated from traditional religions for the purposes of research. Aum Shinrikyo’s actions, however, threw into question the propriety of this approach.

The emergence of researchers who feel the need to establish “cult religions” as a new category is understandable inasmuch as doing so presents a response to the above question. It creates a new label by which to classify faiths that, while undeniably being religions, affect society in predominantly negative ways.

Aum Shinrikyo aside, what sorts of religious organizations in Japan are frequently included in the category of cult religions at the present time? The following are some characteristics that cause researchers—though with some variation—to label a religious order as problematic: making individuals buy objects like cheap vases and personal seals at high prices, sometimes as much as several million yen, or demanding hefty offerings, all in the name of avoiding misfortune or ridding them of bad karma; habitually forcing followers to buy multiple copies of books written by the founder or dozens of tickets to movies produced by the organization; and inviting individuals to circles or facilities aimed at recruiting them into the organization under false pretenses, claiming not to be a religion.

But setting up the category of “cult religions” and casting a critical eye on those organizations is not an end in itself. One point that must be kept in mind as we carry on with research on the Aum Shinrikyo issue is that studying and analyzing religions that face frequent criticism from society has grown significantly more difficult than in the past. The proliferation of advanced information technology has exponentially increased the number of actors transmitting religion-related news, as well as other information about religious incidents. Determining the veracity of that content is extremely difficult, and sorting out the diverse values contained therein is next to impossible.

Taking Aum Shinrikyo as a case in point, evaluations of the group are virtually all negative as far as its acts of terrorism are concerned. On the other hand, a wide range of opinions are seen in society when it comes to what the bulk of followers aspired to, the faiths of followers who had nothing to do with the terrorist acts, and the activities of Aleph and Hikari no Wa (Ring of Light), Aum Shinrikyo’s successor organizations. Views expressed by researchers, meanwhile, are taken up by journalists, members of successor groups, and others as soon as they are made public, at times becoming the focus of criticism themselves.

Given the above, the subject of cult religions is clearly more than can be handled by individual researchers alone; it is imperative that the subject be addressed through collaborative studies. The Religious Information Research Center, of which I am the chief, is one of the research institutions that have studied the Aum Shinrikyo case on an ongoing basis since the incidents. More than 10 scholars have jointly conducted research at RIRC, based primarily on the materials retrieved in 1997 from the Aum Shinrikyo headquarters near Mount Fuji and the cult’s facilities known as “satians.” The fruits of that research have been published in the form of two books: Joho jidai no Omu Shinrikyo (Aum Shinrikyo in the Information Age) and [Omu Shinrikyo] o kensho suru (Examining [Aum Shinrikyo]), published by Shunjusha Publishing Co. in 2011 and 2015, respectively.

With these books as the foundation, further research needs to be undertaken from a broader perspective. The problems of religious terrorism and cults are not exclusive to Japan. There are many questions that need to be addressed: Why have groups like these been increasing? Why are there always youths who are attracted to these groups? Exploring questions like these will require an international network of researchers, and we must keep that in sight as we continue research.

Nobutaka Inoue is Professor Emeritus, Kokugakuin University.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

井上 順孝 / 國學院大學名誉教授

2018年 9月 11日




研究者が示した見解も、直ちにジャーナリスト、後継団体の関係者などに参照され、それ自体が批判の対象となることもある。こうしたことからしても、明らかに一人の研究者が単独で行うには手の余る課題であり、共同研究が必須となる。私がセンター長を務めている宗教情報リサーチセンター(Religious Information Research Center)は、事件以後、継続的にオウム真理教の問題と取り組んできた研究機関の一つである。1997年にかつてのオウム真理教富士山総本部とサティアンから収集した資料類などに基づいて、10人以上の研究員が共同研究を続けてきた。その成果は2冊の本として刊行された。2011年の『情報時代のオウム真理教』(春秋社)と2015年の『〈オウム真理教〉を検証する』(同)である。


一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟

English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > The Aum Shinrikyo Incidents and Religious Research